July 23, 2006

Slowly Basting in Queens

One of my earliest Macintosh computer experiences occurred during my sophomore year in college, playing Sim City on a neighbor's Mac for hours at a time. Whole weekends would go by, yet despite the distractions of college, I sat enthralled and built cities by the hundreds.

To this day, I often see urban life in "Sim City" terms. My neighborhood is a middle-R, for a residential area that's developed but not highly so. Nearby are some low-Industrials, and we have a few mid-Commercial zones in my neighborhood as well. Urban-planning, Sim City-style...

As we head into day 7 without power in my lovely, working class middle-R neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, I can't help but recall what would happen in Sim City when power to a region was cut: you'd get a big flashing lightning bolt over the affected space alerting you that a connection between the zone and the power source has been broken, and you'd need to create a new connection to your power source to re-energize the area. Even in Sim City, the why of it was not nearly as relevant as the need to restore power, and as soon as possible.

The cause of the problem here in Queens is a massive break in the power grid, as that is what is keeping us from enjoying our blessed, blessed electricity. But that's not the problem the residents have, that's the problem Con Ed has. For the residents, the problem is simply no electricity. The solution is to get us electricity, and as soon as possible.

To clarify, let's examine the issue from a customer service standpoint -- I'll use an example from the I.T. world many will be familiar with: a broken printer. When someone wishes to print a document and their printer is down, the immediately apparent solution is to fix their broken printer, which might take hours or days. But the person's problem is not the broken printer, that's the cause of their problem. Their issue is far simpler: they cannot print and they need to print; what they require is the ability to print, and getting them printing again is the goal. So another solution for their lack of printing ability may be replacing the broken printer with a working one, while a third solution may be routing the person to a network printer, and so on. Each alternative solution addresses the person's actual problem in much less time than the first solution, repairing the broken printer, would resolve it.

I assert that Con-Ed is addressing their problem rather than the problem of a 100,000 New Yorkers. Some businesses are paying to rent generators; could we not have generators on every corner where the grid is not faulty? For every break in the massive power feeder cables, why aren't temporary lines jumping the breaks? Rather than devoting the 'round the clock Con Ed crews to fixing the regional feeder lines first and foremost, perhaps we would be better served if there were contingency plans in place that would provide us with local electricity first, which would then allow Con Ed the time to resolve the cause of the disruption while we residents were basking in air conditioning like tax-paying Americans in the 21st century have the God-given right to do.

Are there such plans? If hit with a hurricane, which we can be, or a terrorist attack, which we have been and may be again, what brilliant stratagems have been cooked up over the past five years to ensure we'll be ready to tackle the really momentous, Katrina-level issues? Five years after 9/11, with a country on apparently eternal war-footing, what does Homeland Security and the City of New York have in their in-case-of-emergency file under "power outage?" Not a heck of a lot, if this week is to be any indicator.

It was several days before the Mayor even addressed the issue publicly, and the overall response by City services was underwhelming until the newspapers began to get a hold of the story.
On July 22nd the Mayor even sounded annoyed by the Astoria residents who were relentlessly pressing him for answers. New York City's response to this week's underestimated power outage in a relatively minor and quiet neighborhood does not inspire me with confidence when I consider the catastrophic outages that could very possibly be in our city's future.

Reebee and I have taken to hunting squirrels in the yard and sleeping in trees. If you want us, please remind us of our lost humanity by coaxing us back to civilization with air conditioning and refrigeration. Oh, and ice cream. Reebee wants me to make sure I mention ice cream...


At 9:57 PM, Blogger GMR said...

I don't know why there aren't more portable generators. For that matter, where does the power in Queens come from? Indian Point? You don't hear much from the close-the-nuke-plant crowd this week...

I don't know how it is in Queens, but here in Connecticut, there's a massive NIMBY event every time a company proposes new power lines. It took years to get the Norwalk-Bethel and Norwalk-Middletown links approved. Under street cables are also met with resistance because it requires streets to be closed, which generates huge traffic problems.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Mr.T said...

So why dont you email Con Ed and have them just do Control Alt Delete?


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